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Persona 5 Royal isn't just a simple re-release. It's a case of Atlus having actively reassessed the highs and lows of their own game, and decided that some things need changing.
Persona 5 Royal continues Atlus' tradition of re-releasing their Persona games, following Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden. It's an extended cut of Persona 5 with a ton of new content, including new dungeons, a new Phantom Thief, and new Social Confidants, among many other improvements and alterations.
One huge alteration for a major part of the game arrives in one very simple form: A grappling hook.
Difference #1: The Grappling Hook
Dungeon grinding is a big part of Persona 5, and the Persona series at large. Pushing on through any one of Persona 5's Palace dungeons costs time and energy, both of which you have precious little to spare (gotta hang out with Ryuji, after all). Enemy phantoms pop up at random while you're traversing a dungeon, and when you've only got a limited amount of health and supplies on you, it can be pretty taxing to keep running into enemies over and over.
The grappling hook provides a path through all of this. There's a segment in the debut dungeon—Kamoshida's Palace—which I played recently in Persona 5 Royal. In the 2017 original, this demonic church segment had our heroes traipsing round the church floor, desperately looking for a way to escape upwards and out of the reach of enemies. In Persona 5 Royal, this entire segment is overridden by a simple button tap to use the grappling hook, propelling Joker and company straight up to the platforms above.
It's a huge improvement. In the original Persona 5 you'd spent hours slowly progressing through a dungeon, likely battling every shadowy enemy you came across in what would become a war of attrition against your own health and stamina pools. The grappling hook puts the Phantom Thieves in the fast lane, whisking them through tricky (and often annoying) areas like Kamoshida's church, so you feel like you're making rapid progress through the dungeon.
It's not just the church, either. If you've played the original Persona 5, you'll likely remember the area with four glowing red enemies patrolling the open courtyard outside the base of Kamoshida's tower, etched into your memory like a nightmare. Atlus has gone and plonked a mini tower into the middle of the courtyard that Joker and his friends can grapple up to, towering over the intimidating enemies to get the jump on them. It sounds simple, but whereas I died twice in that section in the original game, I blazed through it in 10 minutes with the grappling hook for the preview.
The Phantom Thieves were always hailed as "stylish" at every opportunity. They wore slick clothes, whether it was Joker's coat or Ryuji's skull armor, hopping over walls and ledges and dramatically flailing their arms around to change direction after opening a chest. For all this though, they never had a "stylish" way of progressing through a dungeon. They'd run from enemy to enemy, giving out beatdowns and taking some damage along the way, through a combat gauntlet to the next safe room. The grappling hook finally gives the Phantom Thieves an opportunity to stylishly progress through a dungeon, leaping over the heads of the enemies you'd ordinarily have to pass through like roadblocks.
Difference #2: Kasumi Yoshizawa
The grappling hook admittedly wasn't the biggest aspect of my excitement for Persona 5 Royal, but it's become the main reason I can actually recommend people giving this 100+ hour JRPG a second go. But there's also Kasumi Yoshizawa: a brand new Phantom Thief for Joker to team up with.
In the demo, I didn't get to see Kasumi's origins of befriending Joker. Instead, we ran into each other on a rainy day after school, at which point I had Joker offer to walk Kasumi to the station under his umbrella. The two friends made small talk as they walked to the station, where Kasumi got a call from her father asking where he should pick her up for practice that evening. Kasumi's a regional gymnast, praised by her father and those above her, while mocked as "miss special snowflake" for having it all by her fellow students.
A bit surprisingly, Kasumi resents her doting father. It's the polar opposite of Haru's situation living under a psychopathic parent, and although Kasumi is at the opposite end of the spectrum with someone that appears to genuinely care for her, she still grows tired of her father just like Haru. She reminds me a lot of Persona 4's Kanji: Kasumi might be a straight A student and live a pretty picturesque life, but she shares Kanji's deep desire to break out of the image that other people have of her.
Difference #3: Kichijoji
Persona 5 Royal also boasts an expanded view of Tokyo, and it's chief new addition is Kichijoji. During the daytime segment of the demo it acts as a shopping hub: people mill about between restaurants, stores, and a temple, but at night it transforms into a hip hangout spot for the Phantom Thieves. You can visit a jazz cafe, pay a visit to food stalls, and even pop on over to a sports bar of sorts with a pool table and darts.
I hung out to play some darts with noted best boy Ryuji. Side activities in Persona traditionally vary in their involvement: Some will have you just sit back and select an option to complete a task, others will have you actively playing a mini game to try and improve yourself and others around you. Darts is thankfully the latter of the two. Like Persona 5's baseball mini-game, you need to time your tap of X to perfection in order to have a revolving icon stop just where you want it on the dart board.
More involved side activities like this are excellent for Persona 5 Royal. It helps you as the player feel more integrated with the world of Tokyo, instead of ordering Ren around and operating him like a robot with a few button presses to do a part-time job. On top of this, playing darts with Ryuji levels up his 'Baton Pass Rank.' A baton pass is fundamental to Persona 5's combat, as one Phantom Thief hits the weak point of an enemy, and passes the followup attack to a teammate to give them a damage bonus for their ensuing attack.
By playing darts, you can level up the Baton Pass damage boost that comes with a followup attack. It's an addition that makes Persona 5 Royal's combat feel way more streamlined.
I'm impressed by Persona 5 Royal's improvements. Atlus has extended their gigantic original game while simultaneously streamlining sections like dungeon crawling with the grappling hook. It's a relatively simple change, but the grappling hook will speed up dungeon navigation immeasurably for returning players.
The Baton Pass rank providing a combat bonus for your Social Links makes you feel rewarded in combat for befriending and maintaining relationships with your favorite characters. Kasumi Yoshizawa will be yet another intriguing addition to a colorful cast, and Persona 5's re-release as Persona 5 Royal makes the whole hundred gour JRPG worth replaying.
Persona 5 Royal releases March 31 on PS4. The Dynasty Warriors-esque action spin-off, Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers, will release at some point later in 2020 for the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.